There are not many programmes that we get rather obsessed with here at created by US, but recently there have been some excellent design and engineering offerings, just like the ‘Men who made us spend’ series on BBC 2 recently which looked at the psychology of design and consumerism and of course, ‘The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway’ that followed the construction of the new Crossrail underground link in London.
An engineering feat, the series (which has now finished on BBC 2) looked at the incredible preparation, technology and people that are making this project a reality, including some of the 10,000 or so engineers that make up the project teams.
But, of those 10,000, there was a very small amount of female engineers on screen. Many would say it is to be expected, but why? Why are we expecting engineers to only be male? The programme did a good job in addressing this issue, by featuring a few of the females who are employed in the project, from interns to project managers. Interestingly, a third of all the project managers in the Crossrail project are female – which is excellent, but it does beg the question – why perhaps were people expecting it to be less? Why are there so little women in engineering?
Engineering is certainly a male dominated sector, and even though females are certainly occupying more roles, they are still usually in the minority. But why is that? Is it, as some speculate, because of the toys that we played with as children? Do we all have to play with construction toys to get interested in engineering?
Surely it is more of an attitude when we get into our school years – and often the attitude of those guiding and teaching us. Kids will all play with everything and it is their environment that allows, or denies a growth of interest in any subject. Shouldn’t we all be encouraged to discover our passion regardless of our gender – and notably that there is nothing that should ever be gender based. – I was taught how to build a wonderful catapult aged four by my engineer grandfather – (the female) Ed
If, as a society we encourage girls of all ages to build and understand things – and that there is nothing wrong with being a woman in engineering and technology – perhaps we will get somewhere, which is exactly what organisations such as the STEMettes are doing. Their tag line says it all – ‘we’re showing the next generation that girls do Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths too’.
Which is exactly what we do in the School of Engineering and Informatics – we are proud to have more than the national average of 16% female on many of our courses in Engineering, Informatics and Product Design – a figure we hope will increase.
But, here are a few words from a few of the great female engineers that are working on the Crossrail project – and what it really means to be one of the few women in engineering…